Minimum alcohol pricing would save lives (UK study)

The Guardian 10 February 2014
Introducing minimum pricing for alcohol would lead to 860 fewer deaths a year and 29,900 fewer hospital admissions among heavy-drinkers while having only a slight effect on moderate drinkers, according to research into the policy’s impact.

The study, from Sheffield University, predicts that making stronger drinks more expensive, through a price of 45p per unit of alcohol, would impact those who drink most heavily and are on low incomes. They would reduce their drinking and reap a health benefit, with fewer alcohol-related deaths and illness.

In March 2012, David Cameron announced that the government would bring in minimum unit pricing, saying he thought it was “a big part of the answer” to binge drinking and alcohol harm. But last July, the government performed a U-turn and ditched the plans. Last week, it moved to ban “deep discounting” instead. This will prevent supermarkets slashing the prices of alcohol to below cost price, which has sometimes made alcohol cheaper than bottled water.

Campaigners say that attacks on deep discounting will have little effect on the nation’s heavy drinking problems. The Alcohol Health Alliance, an umbrella organisation including charities and doctors’ organisations, said the impact would be negligible, affecting just 1% of sales in shops and supermarkets and doing nothing to reduce the appeal of strong drinks targeted at the young.

The new modelling study, published in the Lancet medical journal, shows that heavy drinkers at high risk of accidents and deteriorating health would be most affected by a 45p minimum price. They buy large quantities of low-cost alcohol, while moderate drinkers will buy less of the cheap booze and more with a higher price tag.